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Prosecution in Oscar Pistorius trial wraps up its case

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeHomicideOscar PistoriusShootingsJustice SystemReeva Steenkamp

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The prosecution concluded its murder case against South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday after introducing additional evidence on cellphones and messages.

Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through the door of an enclosed toilet at his home in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. He pleaded not guilty to murder, claiming he mistook her for a burglar when he fired four expanding bullets through the door.

He also pleaded not guilty to two charges of recklessly firing a firearm, relating to discharging a gun in a crowded restaurant and firing into the air from a speeding car, and one charge of possession of ammunition without a license.

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The prosecution case in Pretoria high court doesn’t rely solely on its contention that Pistorius wanted to kill his girlfriend, but that he intended to kill someone — whether an imagined intruder or Steenkamp.

The indictment reads that Pistorius intentionally murdered Steenkamp but adds that even if Pistorius mistook her for an intruder, as he claims, “the accused shot with the direct intention to kill a person. An error in persona will not affect the intention to kill a human being,” it said, referring to the mistaken-identity claim.

Key parts of the prosecution case included testimony from five neighbors who said they heard a woman screaming the night of the shooting and evidence from his gun instructor that Pistorius was well versed in South African laws that make it illegal to open fire on an intruder unless the shooter is in reasonable fear for his or her life.

Police ballistics expert Chris Mangena testified that the first of three bullets that hit Steenkamp struck her in the hip, while pathologist Gert Saayman said she would have screamed in agony after such an injury. (The defense contends that only Pistorius screamed, sounding like a woman.)

In terms of a possible motive for killing Steenkamp, the prosecution points to testimony by Estelle van der Merwe, who lived less than 100 yards from Pistorius’ house and testified that she was awakened by a woman’s raised voice in what sounded like one side of an argument, followed by four loud bangs like gunshots.

The prosecution also produced Whatsapp cellphone messages from Steenkamp to Pistorius complaining about his treatment of her, saying he sometimes frightened her.

“I’m scared of you sometimes of how you snap at me and how you will act to me,” she wrote to Pistorius on Jan. 27, 2013.

“I do everything to make you happy and to not say anything to rock the boat with you. You do everything to throw tantrums in front of people,” she wrote.

Police cellphone expert Francois Moller testified Tuesday that most of the Whatsapp messages were brief and loving, but the only long messages were from Steenkamp, complaining about the way he treated her, and Pistorius’ responses to that.

Defense attorney Barry Roux said “there was a disagreement and unhappiness” on Jan. 27, but this was resolved quickly.

The couple used pet names like Boo and Baba, according to cellphone evidence Tuesday. They both loved cars, Roux said.

“Can I wear my leopard skin dress?” she asked him in one message.

”Yeah, I love that that. You look amazing in it,” he responded.

In another message she told him she loved sleeping with him but didn’t want to cramp his style, in a discussion on whether she would stay overnight with him.

“I love having you sleep next to me too Baba. You never cramp my style,” he said, but added that he had some work to do.

On Tuesday, Roux presented surveillance video as evidence of Pistorius and Steenkamp early in February 2013 in a convenience store sharing kisses.

Police witness Adriaan Maritz also testified that there was very little crime in the secure gated estate where Pistorius lived. There was only one house theft from January 2011 to April 2013 of the total seven crime incidents, including Steenkamp’s slaying and the alleged theft of Pistorius’ watch by police during the investigation of her shooting.

[Updated at 8:30 a.m. PDT on March 25: Pistorius spoke briefly to journalists at the end of the day's hearing. "It's a tough time. We've got a lot of stuff ahead of us," he said.

A member of his legal team, Brian Webber, told journalists that Pistorius would likely testify.

"I don't think we have a choice. The question is when," he said. But he said it was likely Pistorius would be called as the first defense witness when court resumes Friday.]

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

Twitter: @robyndixon

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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